It’s the summer of 2021, the week leading up to July 4th weekend and you get a text from your friend inviting you to go car camping in the Great Smoky Mountains. You pitch the idea to your husband, who is of course down, and you start planning this adventure. Where to begin? I will preface this with my husband who had never been camping, NOT A SINGLE DAY in his life before we decided to go out into the woods to stay a few nights (and by woods I mean a designated campsite with a fire pit, a bench, toilets and even showers.) So you know I was really proud of him for what’s to come.
We decided to invite another set of friends because they always say the more the merrier, and the more people you have around you in an unfamiliar location the better. We then immediately started buying all sorts of crazy equipment and gear for our 3-day, 2 night trip. The most ridiculous item being an insane 4-person eight pound tent because what else do people bring. We went to my parents the night before, and we loaded up on anything and everything my parents were willing to provide us since as a kid my family would go on camping trips like this one, so you know they had the goods. We couldn’t leave without my mom’s famous batch of chocolate chip cookies, a real camping luxury, and we packed the car to the brim with everything from a suitcase full of 7 days’ worth of clothes to a 55 gal cooler to fit all the food and drinks that we were gonna need to survive off of for the trip.
We met our friends at the campground where we are staying, and sure enough we had one of the best spots in the lot – right next to a river and perfectly covered by trees just letting in enough sunlight to keep warm but not too much that you are immediately turning into a lobster for no reason. The first day was spent setting up our tents, exploring the campsite and chilling in our hammock overlooking the river. That night my friends and I played card games, sat by the fire catching up, and roasted smores over the burning flame. The next day our friend suggested that we hike Charlies Bunion, which is an 8 mile out and back hike that brings you to a large rock outcropping known as Charlies Bunion.
It was surprisingly chilly that morning of the hike, especially since it was early July in Tennessee, so I of course didn’t pack a jacket and made do with a flimsy rain coat to keep me warm. I remember we had to fight like 200 other cars for a parking spot at Newfound Gap and then fight another 50 people to use the restroom at the base of the trail. I was so full of an energy and a motivation I hadn’t felt in years and was ready to make it to the top.
It’s Just Not the Same
Prior to this moment in time, I was no noob to hiking let alone backpacking. It may seem that way with my extreme preparedness, glamping luxuries and a gap of experience that spanned more than 6 years. However, before I left my home for college back in 2015 my parents and I usually found a trail, mountain, view, etc. to stop and experience on every single one of our vacations. I had also completed a 9-day backpacking trip in the Appalachian Foothills as part of a summer camp I had attended. The difference was those experiences were planned to the smallest detail imaginable. For instance, my backpacking trip was handed to me on a silver platter. My parents bought all my gear, my camp counselors pre packaged all my food rations and dictated our daily mileage, all I had to do was walk. Similar to this trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, this trip was planned, gear borrowed mostly from my parents, but there was this underlying freedom about hiking a mountain with your best friends, with no supervision, just with a mindset of reaching the top.
The Moment I Knew
After a relatively easy 4-mile ascent to the top we reached the iconic rock outcropping that signaled WE MADE IT. I felt joy, I felt relief, I felt like a badass, but I also felt a sensation I had not felt in a long time which was pure bliss and a connection to nature that had been longing. Completing that hike was extremely rewarding and brought me back to being a kid and remembering how freeing it was to play on the playground with your friends, swinging as high as our little legs pushed us or seeing who could go the farthest on the monkey bars, it was simple happiness.
It was in that moment, where we were sitting on top of Charlies Bunion that I experienced my hiker awakening. Something in my soul was calling, was screaming to be heard. I had remembered on the drive back home to Georgia about reading a book titled WILD a few years prior and I grew obsessed with this idea, telling myself that I was going to do everything in my power to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. To feel this unwavering freedom and grounding that was captured in a brief instance and take it to the max in an unconventional but thoroughly appealing form of a long-distance hike. I feel extremely blessed to have my husband by my side through this entire experience, since he went from never camping, never hiking, to full sending it with me on a 2,650 mile trek across the country.
Life is mysterious y’all. When I was in the 5th grade, I received a snow globe which encased a monarch butterfly sitting on a blade of grass ready to take flight. In italicized text on the ribbon that wrapped the border of the globe was the phrase “Live in wonder”. When I turned 18, I got my first tattoo with this exact phrase plus another phrase that I would try and abide by which was “Live for yourself”.
So here I am, seven years from that moment of getting my first tattoo, two years from that moment that started my obsession with thru-hiking the PCT, and currently in that moment of making a dream into a reality where in few short months I will embark on my Live in wonder, Live for yourself journey of a lifetime.
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